Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced they will not participate in Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade after organizers told an LGBT veterans group its members could not march.
“If veterans’ groups aren’t allowed to march in that parade for whatever reason, then I’ll probably do something else,” Baker reportedly said on Wednesday.
“That word ‘veteran,’ to me, approaches ‘holy,’ and the idea that we would restrict the opportunity for men and women who put on that uniform, who know full well they could put themselves in harm’s way, and deny them an opportunity to march in the parade that’s about celebrating veterans doesn’t make any sense to me,” he added.
In a statement Wednesday Walsh encouraged other people to boycott the parade as well.
“I will not tolerate discrimination in our city of any form,” the mayor said. “We are one Boston, which means we are a fully inclusive city. I will not be marching in the parade unless this is resolved. Anyone who values what our city stands for should do the same.”
OUTVETS, a nonpartisan organization that honors LGBT veterans and their families, has marched in the parade for the past two years. The 116-year-old parade has previously banned gay veterans from marching, the Boston Globe reported, with the fight going all the way to the Supreme Court in 1995. The court determined that it would be left up to the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, the parade’s organizers, to determine who is allowed to march.
This year, the council voted 9-4 to turn OUTVETS away. Dan Magoon, executive director of Massachusetts Fallen Heroes and the parade’s chief fire marshal, said that opposition stemmed from a late application and the group having previously violated the code of conduct.
The code of conduct has a section devoted specifically to rules regarding “sexual orientation”:
“We do not ban any persons or Groups based on their sexual orientation. However, we, the Committee, will not allow the advertisement or display of one’s sexual orientation as a topic that should in any way be depicted as a theme of our parade. We feel it deters from the basis of which this Parade has been celebrated historically.”
Bryan Bishop, founder of OUTVETS, was told that a rainbow that is part of the group’s logo violates the code, the New York Times reported.
“They said people felt that rainbows represent the gay community,” Bishop said. “I told them if that’s the case, then every picture of a rainbow in the parade that leads to a pot of gold needs to be removed.”
Bishop was told the group could participate if members removed the logo from their jackets. Bishop refused, describing it as “taking the stars off the American flag.”
Council member Magoon, an Army veteran, resigned from his position as parade marshal after the vote.
“What I do in my role in the veterans community is to work with all veterans,” said Magoon, who voted in favor of OUTVETS participating in the parade.
“At the end of the day, you still served your country. A veteran is a veteran in my eyes. I would never, ever turn away a veteran because of who they are.”
The council is holding an emergency session on Friday to reconsider the vote. Ed Flynn, who also voted in favor of OUTVETS and is a candidate for the City Council, in a statement urged the council to vote “for inclusion.”
“As a 25-year United States Navy veteran, I supported OutVets in 2014 and did so again this week,” he said. “I remain hopeful that my colleagues on the Council will correct this situation and join me in voting for inclusion.”
Congressman Seth Moulton, who is also a former Marine Corps officer, posted on Facebook, “It is outrageous and disgraceful that Allied War Veterans would decide to ban OUTVETS from marching this year. Let’s just be clear, these are men and women who courageously put their lives on the line for our country. They deserve our respect just as much as anyone, and if this decision is not reversed immediately, I would encourage anybody who supports freedom, equality, and the service of our veterans no matter who they are, to boycott this parade.”
Meanwhile, parade sponsors have begun dropping their support as well, including supermarket chain Stop & Shop.
“The men and women from OutVets, who have bravely served our country, deserve our respect and to be included,” a spokesperson for the company said, according to CBS Boston.
Anheuser-Busch, another sponsor, is reportedly “re-evaluating” if they will continue their participation with the parade.
“We are disappointed to learn that the OUTVETS, who have proudly served this country, have been denied entry to the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” according to a statement.